RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – At least three people with connections to the Piedmont Triad have been named by Gov. Roy Cooper to a commission to study the governance of the public universities in North Carolina.

Cooper announced on Wednesday he had established the 14-person commission through an executive order to look at how public schools in North Carolina – not just the UNC system – are being governed.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

The UNC College Board, for instance, has been increasingly controlled by the General Assembly in recent years and most recently has struggled with its process of hiring chancellors.

Cooper said in announcing the Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina that his motivation was to address leadership.

The board has 24 members who are appointed by the General Assembly, with Randall C. Ramsey serving as its chair. The UNC system’s president is Peter Hans, who took over in August 2020 to oversee the 16 institutions.

“It’s clear that leaders across our state, and across the political spectrum, care deeply about our remarkable university system and want these institutions to thrive,” Cooper said.

One of those appointed is uniquely qualified: Greensboro native Thomas Ross of Davidson is a former president of the UNC system who was pushed out by the Board of Governors in 2015. His replacement, former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, also was tapped by Cooper to serve with Ross as co-chairs of the commission.

Ross had held the job for slightly more than five years, and Spelling had stayed less than three, which was a sign of the turmoil that has surrounded the board for the past decade.

Ross is joined by state Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Greensboro), a former 10-year member of the Board of Governors, and Nicole Dobbins of Summerfield, an associate professor at NC A&T University in Greensboro.

Ross, who was a judge in Guilford County Superior Court, was named UNC president in 2010. He also is the president emeritus of both the UNC system and Davidson College, where he served as president.

Spellings, who lives in Texas, serves as president and CEO of Texas 2036, a non-partisan strategic initiative. She served as secretary of education under President George W. Bush.

“I appreciate the willingness of these talented and committed people to step forward and work together under the leadership of Chairs Tom Ross and Margaret Spellings on a serious, results-oriented review of university governance,” Cooper said, “and I look forward to their recommendations on improving the status of higher education governance in our great state.”

Robinson, recently elected for a seventh term in the Senate, serves as the North Carolina/South Carolina co-chair of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators Region V. Dobbins is the vice chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly and the NC A&T State University Faculty Senate. 

The other members

Cooper named a group that touches on many aspects of roles and experiences:

  • State Rep. John R. Bell IV (R-Goldsboro) was recently re-elected as the House majority leader.
  • W. Louis Bissette Jr. of Asheville, an attorney and two-term mayor and former member of the Board of Governors.
  • Former Republican state Rep. John Fraley of Mooresville is a member of the Board of Governors.
  • Isaiah Green of Massachusetts is a former student member of the Board of Governors and the former student body president at UNC-Asheville.
  • Ann Goodnight of Raleigh is a co-founder and board member of Cary Academy and a trustee of North Carolina State University.
  • Clifford A. Jones Sr. of Charlotte is the senior pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte and a former member of the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees.
  • Gary Locklear of Pembroke is a retired judge who served on the UNC Pembroke Board of Trustees.
  • Karen A. Popp of Chapel Hill is an attorney and former chair of UNC Charlotte’s Board of Trustees and Foundation Board. She was associate White House counsel to President Clinton and a federal prosecutor.
  • Cressie Thigpen Jr. of Raleigh, a former judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, is a former chair of the North Carolina Central University Board of Trustees and served on the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
  • John L. Townsend III of New York, a native of Lumberton, served on the Board of Trustees of UNC-Chapel Hill and chairs both the UNC Investment Fund and the UNC-Chapel Hill Capital Campaign.
  • Brad Wilson of Raleigh, CEO emeritus of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, served on the UNC Board of Governors for 16 years and was its chair for 4 years.

“Our government and our institutions are strengthened by a periodic review of our structures, our priorities and our commitment, and I look forward to working with the members of this task force to consider the issues before us and make recommendations to the governor and other policymakers,” Spellings said in the governor’s release.

“The University of North Carolina System is an unparalleled asset for our state and a comprehensive review to ensure that our governance structure is designed to enhance these institutions and meet the rapidly changing demands of the future is the right thing to do,” Ross said.